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Letter from Bishop Stephen

Letter from Bishop Stephen

As we watch with horror the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine, what should our response be as Christians?  Our first and last response is to pray. The Church of England has published prayers for use for the day of prayer called for by our archbishops for tomorrow, Sunday 27th February. You can find these resources here.

The Diocese of Europe is live-streaming prayers at 6pm GMT on Tuesday 1st March on its website

Pope Francis has called for a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Ukraine and across the world on Ash Wednesday, 2nd March. The Pope has said: “Jesus taught us that the diabolical senselessness of violence is answered with God’s weapons, with prayer and fasting.”  We must denounce the action of Russia in invading a free democratic country because it is evil, immediately imperilling every Ukrainian and the families of Russian soldiers, but also the relative peace of Europe which we have known for so long. We have too easily thought about peace as the norm; but our human condition of sin means that our peace would be far from us but for the saving action of God in Jesus. Just as we can go after goals we want achieve but should not seek, so nations can do the same on a terrible scale. That is what we see unfolding. 

Peace is the gift of God which has been earnt for us by Jesus on the cross. The Resurrection makes that peace available to us through time and eternity. When the risen Christ says ‘Peace be with you’, it is the radical greeting of the post-Resurrection world which enables peace to be our horizon. That peace is not primarily the absence of conflict. It is the orientation of our hearts and minds to be active bearers of peace, just as Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs to be people and proclaimers of peace (Luke 10.5). When we share the peace in the Eucharist, it is not a casual greeting but a radical foretaste of the peace of heaven with the call now to be bearers of peace and light in a dark world.

As we burn last year’s palm crosses for ash, we see the weakness of our own lives and we  we sorrow over the acutely liminal lives of our sisters and brothers in Ukraine. Our commitment to fasting - if we are physically and mentally well enough - brings home to our bodies the earnest call to align ourselves with God’s perfect will for the world God has made. It also sets us on the road to work out what it will mean for us to accept personal cost to make sanctions bring Russia to the table of peace. For sanctions to work at all, they will have to make an impact on our pockets and comforts, perhaps over a sustained period. We need to support Her Majesty’s Government in all efforts to hobble Russian finances and cyber activity here and across the world. 

Just as important, we need to be speaking up for the flood of refugees fleeing westwards and our government’s commitment to their welcome and support as necessary. We must as Christians be working with all people of goodwill to highlight the unfolding humanitarian disaster, even when that is uncomfortable. Ukraine could face misery not seen since the German invasion in 1941. We must be vigilant in calling out any indiscriminate shelling of civilian targets and the physical, political and religious oppression of Ukrainian citizens who cannot escape. We pray for the freedom of Ukraine and for the religious freedom and welfare of Christians, Muslims and Jews. I ask your prayers for the small Anglican communities in Ukraine (, for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Greek Catholic Church of Ukraine and all independent churches. They are doing what they can on the ground and may yet be targeted by Russia (see Giles Fraser on

Of course, our pressing concern about Ukraine has to be put in the context of all the other parts of the world where there are bad leaders and where we are concerned for the physical and religious liberty of our Christian sisters and brothers. People do evil when they think good people are not looking. Our prayer for peace is a challenge to the whole world, starting with ourselves as we pay attention on many fronts. An African friend of mine who intercedes for peace across his continent today reminded me of the prayer attributed to St Francis: 

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen.

At this confusing and sorrowful time, I am drawn to the penultimate chapter of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, 15.54-58:   When this perishable nature has put on imperishability, and when this mortal nature has put on immortality, then the words of scripture will come true: Death is swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting? Now the sting of death is sin, and sin gets its power from the Law. So let us thank God for giving us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Never give in then, my dear brothers and sisters, never admit defeat; keep on working at the Lord’s work always, knowing that, in the Lord, you cannot be labouring in vain.

We must not be shamed by poorer European countries in our generous support for refugees. This means primarily providing willing international aid support for Ukraine's neighbouring states who are welcoming people fleeing violence. We must also encourage HMG to waive visa rules for Ukrainian citizens who have family and church connections in the UK. Beyond that, we should reach out to children and young people separated from their families who need particular care regardless of all borders.

Yours ever in Christ,


Right Reverend Stephen Conway 

Bishop of Ely


Page last updated: Saturday 26th February 2022 9:31 PM
First published on: 26th February 2022
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